Spider-Man: No Way Home crushed it at the Box Office, making a whopping $609.9 million domestically through New Year's weekend and over $1 billion globally (The Hollywood Reporter, 2022). With a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the film has quickly become something to be marveled at (no pun intended). While many are in awe of the film's many surprises, I find myself reveling in the subtle project management-related lessons scattered throughout the film. Let's take a look at the project management principles that Spider-Man: No Way Home can teach us.
Navigating a Complex Project
Spider-Man finds himself in a tangled, complex web of a project - reversing a botched spell to patch up the impending invasion of multi-verse supervillains looking to take Peter down. All the while, attempting to cure the supervillains who breached the universe's walls. It's a lot to manage. As project managers, we are expected to wade through the complexity and bring clarity to the project scope. If you find yourself managing a complex project, try not to get tangled in the web. Weave your way through each of the tasks, deliverables, and milestones, one web sling at a time. This is where a project management plan or work breakdown structure can come in handy.
No Way Home is filled with a multitude of diverse, complicated villains... erm, stakeholders. A stakeholder is a party with an interest in the project. Peter must quickly figure out each stakeholder's motivation. In this case, it's easy - kill Peter Parker. But Peter has other things in mind, like curing what ails each of the supervillains. Managing stakeholders starts with understanding their needs. Ask yourself, what does this person want out of the project? From there, you can figure out how you can cure... erm, satisfy the needs of each stakeholder. While Peter didn't conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis of Doc Ock, Electro, Green Goblin, and Lizard, I recommend taking the time to do so on your project.
Several risks could have been avoided or mitigated, if Peter had taken a moment to consider the threats and opportunities he would face as a consequence of his decisions. What if Peter decided to ride it out with the reveal of him being Spider-Man and not seeking Dr. Strange's help to fix it? Could this have presented residual risks, such as Peter and his friends' plans for the future getting axed? Or, could it have mitigated or potentially avoided the risk of supervillains coming into this universe to kill Peter Parker? I suppose we will never know, but it's this type of thinking of analysis that is done when you are coming up with your risk management plan. Make sure to document all risks, positive and negative, risks triggers, mitigation strategies, and contingency plans.
Working in a Project Team
Peter Parker is not alone. This version of Peter works with a team, albeit a small one. As project managers, we have the honor of working within project management offices, alongside fellow PMs. We are also tasked with working as part of cross-functional teams, which means you're working with members of other teams that provide a critical component of the project and feed into its success or failure. Therefore, your ability to work with different types of team members is important. You can see throughout the film, the interactions between Peter, MJ, and Ned teeter between a team that is in its' norming or performing phase. They collectively also show high levels of EQ, or emotional intelligence, which refers to their ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
When Peter and his team members are unsuccessful in getting accepted into college, he makes a grand effort to resolve the problem by attempting to coerce the admissions officer to reconsider Ned and MJ for admission into M.I.T. This is following Peter's first attempt to solve the problem, by going to Dr. Strange for help. While neither of his problem-solving strategies is successful, I commend Peter for his urgent attempt to clean things up for his friends. Problem-solving is an essential skill to handle the issues project managers encounter daily. Perhaps, if Peter had considered some of these problem-solving techniques, the outcome with the admissions officer would have gone much smoother than him having to save her from Doc Ock.
Peter changes the "Forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man" spell mid-encantation. Thus, introducing what we call in project management as scope creep. Scope creep is exactly what it sounds like and takes place when requests creep into the project scope that was not a part of the original ask. Done differently, Peter should have thought through what he wanted in the spell, arriving at a well-defined project scope. From there, he should have discussed the scope with his project sponsor, Dr. Strange, to ensure they were both on the same page before project kickoff (the spell).
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader's main focus is the thriving of their company or organization. A servant leader shares power puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. If this sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard Aunt May teaching Peter that with great power comes great responsibility. As project managers, whether we are working in agile or hybrid environments, we may be asked to fill the role of servant leader where we put the needs of the team before anything else. In this case, Aunt May is instilling in Peter this idea that he must put the needs of others, even super villains, above his own.
Project manager or not, I hope you enjoyed this rundown of project management principles that Spider-Man: No Way Home can teach you. Let me know if you caught any more PM-related or life lessons while watching this film. Hopefully, you'll catch these and more in your next viewing.
Until next time... take care!
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Ann Campea, MSPM, MPH, PMP
Worldwide Readiness Program Manager at Apple, Inc.
Program/Project management professional with 10 years of experience in product development, consumer goods, tech, and healthcare industries.